Mrs Vera Howell (nee Turner), was born c 1910. She was interviewed on 16 June 1981, when she lived at 23 Podsbrook.
She also appears on tape 53.
For more information about her, see Howell, Vera, nee Turner, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Mrs Vera Howell, nee Turner, was born c.1910. She was interviewed on 16 June 1981, when she lived at 23 Podsbrook, Witham.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Q: Her mother [Mrs Shelley] and your mother were … ?
Mrs H: Sisters.
Q: So what family, were they a Witham family.
Mrs H: Well, my mother was a Rivenhall person actually. My father was a Witham man. As I say I was the only one.
Q: You were born here ?
Mrs H: Oh yes, I was born in Witham (Q: Which part?) Born down Maldon Road. The houses are all down now. (Q: Really? Whereabouts was it then.) Well it was near, you know there’s a shop, the leather place. Just beyond that. You know there’s a turning goes up and round out into the, by the Spread Eagle. You know there used to be a, I don’t know if it is still, you can still get like right round there but it used to be but I lived down just near there [site of 6-18 Maldon Road] but it’s all pulled down now. (Q: But your father?) My father lived in a cottage I think, near the Church.
Q: What was his name ?
Mrs H: Turner [noise] (Q: He was Witham as well?) I don’t know whether he was born in Witham but I should imagine so and my mother was from Rivenhall.
Q: What did your father used to do ?
Mrs H: My father was a monumental stonemason. (Q: Oh) He worked for Slythe. What is Slythe [???]. When I was child that’s where he worked.
Q: What was his first name in case I come across it ?
Mrs H: Henry William. My mother was Rivenhall and her name was Young before she married. A lot of her ancestors [???] are in Rivenhall churchyard you know.
Q: And so you were born down Maldon Road. Did you stay there for quite a long time ?
Mrs H: I think I lived down there until I was about seven and then we moved into a house, into the High Street. That’s all pulled down now but it was where the caravan place is now.[102-116 Newland Street] We lived there. There was a yard at the back of our house, we were shut off rather, but there was a yard at the back and there were some cottages round the back. And our garden used to have to go across this yard. We’d got a locked up garden. We used to go across this year. What it’s like now I don’t know.
Q: There really quite a lot of people living in the centre of the town ?
Mrs H: Yes, I mean this was nearly opposite to where the Co-op is now where I lived there. That was quite a good sized house actually. I mean there were four bedrooms and then a very big attic which was very liveable, you know a good attic, sort of thing.
Q: Did you have a lot of brothers and sisters ?
Mrs H: I had one sister. Eleven years older than myself, but she lives in Hampshire. I haven’t got any very close relatives. I think Mrs Shelley is about the only relative now. Yes. I had one sister. My cousin and aunt lived in Christmas House [98 Newland Street]. You know which was Christmas House (Q: I think so, it’s new, pulled down now isn’t it). Well, yes, well I suppose it is partly pulled down, because where Batsford Court Hotel is now [100 Newland Street]. Well, next to that was Christmas House. That‘s where my aunt, my aunt, my mother’s sister. Chaplin. Probably amongst things of Witham you’ve come across Ted Chaplin (Q: I know the surname) He lived to be nearly 100. (Q: Oh really.) And he worked, years ago, for Mondy’s. It was Mondy’s, I think it still goes by Mondy’s I think.
Q: You say your uncle ?
Mrs H: Yes, he’s my uncle by marriage.
Q: So it was Mondy’s when you were little?
So it was Mondy’s when I was little, it was Monday, there was Mr and Mrs Mondy and Nora and Irene Mondy and they all belonged to the Operatic, same as I did. They were a little bit older than I was but I remember we used to go fruit picking together, you know, in the holidays. I never picked any fruit [laugh] but I used to go. I was lazy I’m afraid. (Q: That was when you were a little girl ? ) In the holidays, school holidays that was. I remember slightly, I remember a little bit of the First World War. I remember, there still was an International shop more or less where it is now, but, of course, only a small shop. And I remember there used to be a person in the desk, cash desk just inside there and of course, everywhere was in darkness, you know, in the First World War, well, was the Second World War really. And I remember walking with my mother, I suppose about teatime down the High Street and, kicking against something. I don’t know how old I was, I was only about five or so, four or five. I kicked against something and I must have said ‘I kicked against something’. My Mother sort of felt and picked it up and it was a fur muff and I don’t know how we got to know but by some means or other we got to know that it belonged to the girl that was cashier in the International, and I remember the next morning my mother taking, making me take it up there and they gave me two shillings you know and of course I thought I was so rich. Then my Mother made me take it straight back (Q: Oh no, what a shame.) She said ‘No you’re not to take it’, she said. You know. She wouldn’t let me have the money so I had to take the money back. I remember that very vividly you know.
As I say I was more or less an only child because my sister was that much older than me and she was away, she went nursing in London and she was away so I was more or less an only child.
Q: You must be a lot older than you look then.
Mrs H: How old do you think I am ?
Q: I was trying to work it out, but if you were five in the First World War …
Mrs H: It’s telling tales really.
Q: Did you go to the International shopping that you remember ?
Mrs H: I don’t remember going in there shopping very much with my mother. My mother used to go to the Co-op, I know. And in the First World War it was pretty dreadful really, you know. I remember my mother taking the cream off the milk and shaking it in the bottle to get a bit of butter you know. Because you didn’t really see much butter. I mean it wasn’t such a fair system in the First World War. (Q: Wasn’t it?) Like it was the Second World War. You did have your ration books and you had your fair share but you know then if you happened to be in the shop at the right time when they were just dishing stuff up you got a bit. Otherwise you didn’t. (Q: I see) You know I do just remember about that. I remember you know, shaking this bottle, mother used to skim the milk.
Q: Were there ration books then too?
Mrs H: I don’t remember ration books I don’t remember ration books in the First World War. Of course we had them in the Second World War which was a much fairer system.
[Visitor calls, with recipe etc.. Then chat about Witham Choral Society, Methodist church, visitor, grandchildren, not noted.]
Mrs H: My son did live in Witham in Highfields Road. Because I lived in Highfields Road. Unfortunately, you know, he’s up in Macclesfield. My oldest grandson and my granddaughter, she’ll be eighteen this next, in September and she’s swotting for ‘A’ levels for next year. But Julian he was fifteen in May and then I’ve got Michael and Christopher they’re my daughter’s two children. They’re in Northampton (Q: Oh dear, that’s a long way isn’t it.) I miss the older ones really because I’ve had always around but you know when its your job you’ve got to go.
Q: Did you live anywhere else in between living in the High Street and going to Highfields Road?
Mrs H: Well, Maldon Road I lived after that. Oh I did live in Braintree Road. When I were first married we went to this bungalow at Hatfield Peverel and from there I moved to the house I was talking to you about in the High Street near Claydons [?]. There used to be a cycle shop there.
Q: That was when you were married ?
Mrs H: That was when I was first married, yes, I lived at Hatfield Peverel in a bungalow for a little while. Then I moved into Arundel House. that’s right, it was next to, in between that the Co-op and then there was this house and Claydons the cycle shop next to it. So it was by that, what we called the Rec Chase, you know. [Kings Chase]. I lived there. I don’t think I was there much more than about a year. Then I lived up, moved into Braintree Road next to where Rose’s shop, I don’t know the people that are in it now, Hammond’s, Jenny Hammond was in it. (Q: It’s Adams I think.) Well I lived next door there for a little while and then we bought a house in Highfields Road. And then I lived there, and then I went back into Albert Road. So I sold, after my son moved away, see, when I first moved into Highfields Road from Braintree Road, I don’t know how long I lived there. Because my husband died after I’d been married about eight years and so now, no it wasn’t eight years. Anyway Keith was I think, Keith was about eight, he was eight two days before my husband died and my daughter was a year and four months (Q: Goodness.) when he died and I lived there for quite some time and then bought a house in Albert Road. Because I couldn’t do the garden and it was you know, it all got too much really and the rates and one thing and another.
And in the meantime my son married and so I moved into a house in Albert Road, right opposite the station and I had a bathroom and I had it all altered and that and was very happy there actually had good neighbours and that. And then, of course, when this place came along my daughter-in-law put my name down actually to start and she said ‘I’ve put your name down’ for a flatlet and it wanted a lot of thinking about really. [Podsbrook] You know after you’ve had your own house and garden and all that sort of thing. But really I haven’t really regretted it, because I’ve had two quite big operations since I’ve been here and it’s been quite good really because we’ve had good wardens. We’ve got an excellent warden and it’s worked out very well (Q: You feel secure don’t you ?) Yes and the family, you see, they feel, particularly now they’re away, they feel that there’s someone on the spot if I am ill or anything. I mean they would come immediately if she rang them or anything but it takes a bit of thinking about but then we’re all very happy here.
[chat about Podsbrook Social club and plans for celebration the day before Charles and Di’s wedding, not noted]
Q: Did you used to work before you were married or anything ?
Mrs H: Well, yes, I did, when you asked me the other day I’d forgotten. I did, when I left school, I left school at fifteen and I served an apprenticeship (Q: Really?) in the Co-op in the drapery for three years. Five shillings a week. (Q: Yes) From then on I went to Chelmsford and worked there but my mother died when I was sixteen and my sister came home and kept house for two or three years and then she married and so of course I packed up and sort of came to look after my father. My father lived to be ninety but of course, in the meantime, I married.
Q: So when was it that he died ?
Mrs H: Let me think, I should think Keith was about twelve, I should think it was somewhere about 1942. He was active right up until about three days before he died. He was up and walking about and his brain was very alert. But my mother died at 56. She was ten years younger than my father, so she died quite early really.
Q: Can you remember anything about when you were working at the Co-op then ?
Mrs H: Well, you know, I served an apprenticeship there, which, of course, they don’t do today. (Q: No). I mean then, instead of having material come on rolls or that you see, we used to have to what they call block it. You had to block it on to boards. There was an art in blocking this, putting this material on … It all came, just in folds the materials, and you know you used to have to block it, do it on and there was ever such an art in doing this because, l don’t know if you know, when you go to wind anything on, it usually gets one way and all that sort of thing. It sounds funny to be an apprenticeship really to a drapers shop, but not in those days. I mean I learned to do sale tickets and to do window dressing and all that sort of thing, you see, and when I moved to Chelmsford I worked for people named Denny and I used to dress windows then (Q: Did you ?) Do window dressing, and make all my own tickets, you know sale tickets or anything like that.
Q: How did you learn when you were an apprentice ?
Mrs H: Well the manager would show you, you see and then there was of course older people as well above you. Because I always remember somebody there, you know Mrs Lee that lives in St Nicholas Road ? [Bertha Lee, no.29] (Q: Oh, yes, yes) Mark Lee’s mother [grandmother]. Well she worked there at the same time but of course she was older than I was and I remember her telling me to do something when I was a junior one day, I forget what it was, but I know I told her I hadn’t come to do that, I had come to learn a trade, you know.
Mrs H: I remember her telling me to do something when I was there, you know. I can’t think now what it was, but I know I said to her ‘Oh no, I can’t do that, I’ve come to learn the trade’.
Q: What did she say ?
Mrs H: Well, I think she laughed it off, you know because we were great friends afterwards. A very nice person she was. But I mean I was the junior then for a while. And also I learned to trim hats. Make and do hats. Make and do hats. You know you’d get sort of a, what do you call them, you don’t hardly see them now, but I mean at that time of day there used to be hanks of straw to make hats the colour you wanted, on to frames. I can’t think what did they call them now. These sort of buckram shapes. (Q: I know what you mean, yes.) And there was the millinery department and you learnt that, to decorate hats with straw or cover them with material. (Q: Making them in fact really?) Yes, I’ve made hats that way. I don’t know that I could do it now.
I tell you another thing I’ve just thought of, my father used to do the cane bottomed chairs and people used to bring chairs from all over the place for him to do it. Yes, I can see him now, he had a special little knife and a little hammer because he used to do and he used to cut little narrow things of wood, to knock in the holes to keep the canes in you see. You see and he used to thread this cane through. Yes, as a child he was well known. (Q: Did he do it at home? After he’d finished work sort of thing.) Yes, yes. Used to do it at odd times and he was well known all round for cane chairs.
Q: Did the Co-op have the same sort of departments, did it have furniture … ?
Mrs H: I think they were more or less the same things. I think they did have more upstair that they have done. I know a lot of the men’s stuff used to be upstairs at one time. A lot of storage up there anyway. There used to be one side the gents’ outfitters and the other side the ladies. Because they didn’t have the other department that they have got now with curtains and that sort of thing, that was all in the one little shop.
Q: So it was all in together. But you were just in the …?
Mrs H: In the one shop. Used to go up the steps to the millinery part, which is now dresses and things, but that used to be the millinery department up there.
Q: But you were in ..?
Mrs H: But I was down in the main one, just the drapery side. (Q: That was sort of material and …) Material and curtain materials, dress materials, and sheets, they sold sheets and pillowcases.
Q: So when you said the manager taught you, would that be just the manager of that particular section ?
Mrs H: He was the manager of the drapery, you see they called it the drapery. I mean there wasn’t a man in the gent’s department there was sort of a general manager. (Q: Mmm.) Who managed the grocery part as well. He was really the all over manager but the other one was just the drapery manager. (Q: So he helped you ?) Oh he was the one that really taught me. He’d been trained at Brookner & Bridges in [???]. [motorbike noise!] I don’t know that there’s a Brookner and Bridges now, I think Debenhams have taken them over. I always remember him telling me he was trained there, for the trade.
Q: So were the other people in the department women ?
Mrs H: Yes, all the drapery side and there was about two I think in the, for the gent’s side. (Q: How many were there in drapery?) Well there was the milliner and then I would think there was three or four others. I would think more than they have now in that shop I would think. There is a millinery now, but I think they have that upstairs I think, don’t they, the hats. But, of course you see, there’s no making of hats now. In those days they used to make them. I mean they made them to match your coat or whatever you wanted.
I remember another girl that my mother didn’t actually adopt, but she was, I had a child come to live with me when she was about seven. I was nine and she was seven. My mother did more or less adopt her but she was never officially adopted and I remember her and I were bridesmaids to a cousin and we had tussore silk dresses and hats made to match.
Q: So presumably you had the dresses made as well ?
Mrs H: Yes, we used to have, now my mother used to do an awful lot but I remember yes my mother made a lot of dresses and I think I’ve taken after her because I’ve always done a lot of sewing. I mean I made all my daughter’s clothes till she was quite grown up really. I make my own now (Q: Really?) Yes I often make a dress (Q: They look very professional.). I don’t know. I’m not very fussy over them these days. My mother used to do an awful lot but there used to be a Miss Dazeley and she lived in Chalks Road. (Q: Oh, there is a Dazeley opposite) [Mr Dazeley, no.6] Yes, but I don’t think any relation. This Miss Dazeley married Mr Hammond. You remember Hammond’s shop in Braintree Road, which is now, well they do hairdressing as well I think (Q: Roberts it is now.) Yes Roberts. Well that was Mr Hammond. Well this Miss Dazeley, she didn’t marry till late in life. She used to do any special dresses you know we had, best dresses and things. If my mother felt like it. We used to have to go up, I remember walking, having to walk all up there to go and fit these dresses you know. Yes she used to make our dresses.
Q: Those were special, what about everyday ?
Mrs H: Oh my mother made nearly all, yes. (Q: And she would buy the stuff?) Buy the material, probably at the Co-op. And my mother used to do a little bit of catering (Q: Did she?) Yes, with my Aunt, Mrs Chaplin. We used, in those days, to have Essex Hunt Balls in the Public Hall and they used to put down a special floor and the dogs from the Hunts. I can’t remember if the horses came in. [Laugh] They used to come in in their red coats and the dogs and that I remember, then there was a, not when the Ball was on, but they used to come in beforehand, I remember them all coming in with the huntsman and their red coats on. And, of course, years ago in the Public Hall there used to be a Back Hall. There was the stage but behind that was another hall so that their actual food used to be on long trestle tables. I remember going with my mother as a child up there with my aunt she used to do these, she used to cater for these Hunt Balls (Q: Oh I see.), and my aunt if she wanted any help she used to get my mother to go and help.
And also my mother used to go to Rivenhall, to Rivenhall Place, people named of Bradhursts lived there years ago, I was only very small then and I remember my mother having a black frock and a cap[?] with white and she used to go and help. And I always remember her going when they had a daughter named Heaven [laugh] She married a Lord Fitzwilliam or Fitzgerald or somebody this Heaven did and she had a twenty-first birthday and she had an enormous cake, I don’t know how many tiers. Well my mother went and helped at this twenty-first birthday party because they had everybody that was anybody and others besides, at this place, and I remember my mother coming home and bringing a big box with great big chunks of icing sugar. Icing off this cake. I was very young then I think, I could only have been about three, but I do remember that.
I used to suffer with earache a lot in those days and a cousin had come to, my father was there but this cousin had come to stay with my me[?]. My mother was a very, I shouldn’t say it perhaps because she was my mother, a very clever woman really. She was self-educated, because I mean she only went to school till she was nine. They had to pay in those days you know. I mean her people weren’t very well off I don’t think. I mean I never knew any grandparents because my mother had me when she was forty and so you know she was older and no grandparents were alive when I was born. But yes my mother was very educated and she went as a nanny, she trained as a children’s nurse a bit, and went as a nanny, and she travelled abroad which was quite unheard of in those days, with the family that she was nannying to, these children And then an aunt of mine went with her as an under-nurse as well and I think she educated herself, because I remember that she was most strict with this girl that my mother more or less adopted and myself. Well and my older sister, my sister. Though I don’t remember much that went on about my sister because she was away. But my mother was so fussy about how we spoke and our manners and at the table and how we were dressed and were never allowed to wear coloured underwear like most children wore. And we were never allowed to wear pinafores to go to school in like most of the children wore. No, my mother wouldn’t, that was degrading to wear, (Q: Oh goodness) to wear a pinafore in her eyes. But she was really very clever. She could recite reams and reams, she remembered so well. And we’d always got people at the door saying would my mother write and they wanted a letter, a special letter for something. And she would write. And you know considering all things. But I’ve realised as I got older that she really was very clever. She had got a very good brain.
Q: By the sound of she kept herself very busy ?
Mrs H: Oh yes she was always very busy. Very busy person. Unfortunately, of course today she wouldn’t have died. She had appendix for one thing and had peritonitis. and died. (Q: Really?) But I mean these days it wouldn’t have happened (Q: Quite.)
Q: What did she used to do as well as the odd jobs and things, did she … ? Oh she was a dressmaker ?
Mrs H: Oh, no she didn’t do dressmaking. I mean if any friends or anything would want any little bit of sewing or some curtains run up, or anything like that, she’d do it just for a favour. She didn’t do dressmaking. No she didn’t really have a hobby and my father being that much older, he didn’t always work as much as he might have done [Laugh] and my mother took in lodgers. (Q: Did she?) Yes. Because we’d got plenty of room, yes, she did, she took in boarders.
Q: What sort of people would they be ?
Mrs H: Various people really. I know when they first built the Midland Bank, the bank manager and his wife and child came and stayed with us, and oh various people we had, and then I remember the latter part of the First World War we had, there was soldiers and there was one particular lot of soldiers that were, they weren’t the ordinary sort of, rank and file, I can’t remember what they called them, but there was various sort of, I think there was one or two Italians amongst them and that, and I know we had this Italian come and stay with us and he eventually married a girl, an English girl that worked in the Post Office. She came from Maldon actually and he used to catch moles and dress the skins, dress these skins and he got enough to have a fur collar made for this girl he married, her coat and eventually he got enough to make a complete moleskin coat.
Q: Oh, you have had an interesting life [traffic noise] Were there a lot of soldiers here in the First War ?
Mrs H: Yes, there were. There were a lot of soldiers from the Midlands. I remember the First Warwick regiment and a lot of them were in, you know down Maldon Road there’s, do they still call it the Retreat ? (Q: Oh yes.) Where there’s bungalows and that, a little place on its own. [Where the road, the Retreat, is now] Well there used to be a quite big building there and during the First World War that was full of soldiers. But some of the sergeants and those of little higher rank tried always to get billets out and I remember us having some sergeants and that was when we lived in Maldon Road. And, they were nearly all from Nuneaton and all round that area. And they were, of course I wasn’t very old then and they used to bring me all sorts of things if they did manage to get out. I remember them bringing me dolls and one of them, every Sunday, used to leave a bar of chocolate on our front door step for me as a child. That was in the First World War and my mother often used to cook things for them. (Q: Did she?) Yes. When she’d got any spare. You know sometimes they’d bring spare fat or flour or perhaps some jam and my mother used to do some cooking for them and that. But they used to bring bacon and it smelled horrible. My father wouldn’t have it in the house but where we lived then in Maldon Road we’d got a big wash-house, you know a big out-building and this bacon I suppose was all right but I remember the smell. I didn’t like it, my father wouldn’t have it in the house. But these soldiers of course were pleased with it really, they loved to have it. And my mother used to have a little oil stove and cook it out in the wash-house for them. And they used to bring no end of that Kiellers[?] jam in tins. But she used to make them all sorts of things. You know, they were glad to …
Q: So the food they brought was for them mostly?
Mrs H: I should have a photograph somewhere of my father and some of his [???].
[chat about looking for photos, not noted]
Mrs H: That’s an old one of the young Conservatives. I expect you know one or two faces on there. There’s Nora and Irene Mondy on there (Q: Ahh – isn’t it lovely, all those hats.) That’s my husband.
Q: What did he used to do ?
Mrs H: He was in the wholesale trade of tobacco. (Q: Was he from Witham?) My husband was really one of the starters of the Horticultural Society. Yes, he gave a cup which was called The Hilary Cup, which was my daughter’s name, given in her name and Mr Bickmore’s got it. Summer Bickmore won it right out. You know him and some others were the first ones to form that. I had a very old picture of …. I tell you another thing that my aunt that used to do the catering. This is one of my father, that was my father, and that was the Gimsons, you’ve heard of the Gimsons, there used to be Karl Gimson and Ted Gimson the doctors. Well I think that was either Karl or Ted Gimson’s funeral, and that was my father was one of the bearers at their funeral. (Q: I see, he used to do that quite regularly did he, or was that particularly for their funeral?) Oh no, he used to sometimes, you know, be a … Yes he was a big man. That was me in fancy dress at the Public Hall.
Q: Did you do a lot of …?
Mrs H: Oh I used to be in a lot of things. (Q: Who are some of these?) Let’s see if I can tell you any that you’re likely to know. Well, Ann Redman’s here somewhere. Know Mrs Redman do you ? (Q: em.) Lives in the Avenue. She was Ann Newman then. Myrtle Beardwell, you know Ruth Beardwell, don’t you, that’s her sister, Myrtle. That’s Cecil Dudley, that’s me, that was Madge Medley[?], that was Rene Monday, (Q: mm) and that was Nellie Ottley did you know any of the Ottleys (Q: Heard of them, yes). I don’t know how many years you’ve been here. (Q: Fifteen.) Oh have you? That’s Kath Richards, do you know Kath Richards, (Q: Yes). We had a Concert Group then.
Q: So your friends would be em, people from the Operatic and, when you were young, I mean ?
Mrs H: Yes, from the Operatic, and the Girls Friendly Society. I used to do singing, bit of singing. Well I was partly trained really. Only I had to give it up, when I came home to keep house, I couldn’t afford it. Yes I was trained. I used to be in the St John’s Operatic in Chelmsford.. That’s an old picture, that’s me there. I can’t think what that was, but it was marching in the High Street. (Q: Something patriotic, with all the flags.) Oh here’s the one I was looking for. That’s me. That’s my Father and those are three of the soldiers of the First World War. (Q: Goodness.)
Q: And that’s behind your house?. (Mrs H: Yes, well that’s just in the garden there.) You’ve got a nice hat on there haven’t you ?
Mrs H: Yes, well that’s a velvet hat, that had been made you see. It was velvet, it was, I remember it, and I think I’d got a knitted coat on, hadn’t I, a hand knitted coat and the hat had cherries I think or something. I can remember that quite well. I thought I’d got an old one somewhere. I can’t, you know, I haven’t got any dates.
Q: It’s quite early because the dresses …
Mrs H: Yes, well that was one that my mother had made and smocked. And that was one of the schoolteachers. I don’t what that could have been because we were walking. See that’s down the High Street, we were walking. I mean the Post Office is here now and that’s em Freebornes and you can see there’s not traffic.
Q: What school did you go to ?
Mrs H: I went to Maldon Road. (Q: Did you?) Yes. (Q: I wonder why that one and not the National School? [???]) I don’t really know. I suppose my mother preferred me to go there for some reason or another. (Q: I’ve heard people saying that they were quite keen on music at the Maldon Road School?) Yes, well the headmaster there was a Mr Quick and I was taught by him for piano and so was my sister, and my sister done well but I wouldn’t practice. I could play a little bit now, but I mean if I’d kept it up properly I could have played. No, we both, but my sister was a good scholar too. Healthwise she wasn’t too good, otherwise I think she would have gone in for teaching but they were advised for her to have an outdoor life, so really she followed my mother into children’s nursing. But she was more clever than me as regards, well, at least she worked at it lets say [laugh] more than I did. I got through and I got through the scholarship too but I missed out on the second part. I got through the academic, all the academic studies, but I always feel I had a very unfair advantage really. Well it wasn’t an advantage, I had a very unfair time over that. (Q: What happened?) Because the day we had to go just for the second do, you had to read, there was these men all round the big table, and you had to read, study whatever it was in this book and read it through and thoroughly get the gist of it and then they’d ask you questions on it you see. Well, everybody had said ‘Oh that’s just a walkover’, you know. But the thing was, one of the girls was missing you see and I was sent to look for this girl, and I roamed all round the school and got back just about when they were nearly finished. So I always felt that I was done out of that. (Q: So you didn’t get your …) So I didn’t get it. No. I passed all the first part. (Q: Oh dear.) But I was furious about it, so were my parents. I didn’t get it and well, it was just unfortunate and that was it. (Q: Oh dear.) So I always felt done out of that really. I don’t know that I was [???] for it really, but still. As I say I’d got through all right on the ordinary subjects, you know.
Q: That would have been to go to …?
Mrs H: Braintree High School. (Q: Did your sister go there?) No, she didn’t because they badly wanted her to. Mr Quick was very cross I think really but she didn’t go because she could have done Pupil teaching because she was top girl of the school. She had done very well. Because I hated school. Oh I hated school, I loathed school. I always say, well, I used to say, I don’t know that I would now, I used to say it was the happiest day of my life when I left school. (Q: Really, there’s a lot of people look back and think how nice it was, but you didn’t.) No. They used to laugh ‘cause, when we lived in Maldon Road, the people always used to say they knew when I was going to school, I used to howl my eyes out. Someone always used to have to take me. I hated school.
Q: So when you left you went straight to the Co-op then did you ?
Mrs H: Em, well I think, no, for a year, I don’t think I did. I don’t think I did anything the first year I left school. Because I didn’t go there till I was fifteen. I can’t remember doing anything special that year. It seems as if I was home. My mother used to let me do a bit of sewing with her and cooking with her and that sort of thing. I don’t think my mother particularly wanted me to sort of do a lot really. I think she liked having me around and having me do things that she did. I mean I used to write and things, and I think she would have liked to have me home really. To really teach me I suppose more domestic things in a way, cooking and things like that. But I didn’t want to, I wanted to, …
Q: So that was your idea really, to go out … ?
Mrs H: Oh yes. (Q: How did you get the apprenticeship?) I don’t really know how I got in there.
Q: Did you think about doing anything else ?
Mrs H: Well, I did do a bit of clerical work after my husband died and that. I had to get, well I had to work really. (Q: Of course yes) And you see Hilary really was quite a baby and anyhow, I did take in boarders for a bit and then I got a job at the school when Hilary was about four and a Miss Welland was headmistress then at the Church School [Guithavon Street] and I went, because the person that lived next door to me she used to go down and just do the milk. They used to just dish round the milk in those days and she left and she said perhaps I could do that little job. I went down and saw Miss Welland and she said yes, she would take me. Well then, from then I used sort went in to sort of help with the dinners and I was sort of in charge of the dinner ladies as you might say, you know and I quite enjoyed it really and then Miss Welland let Hilary start school a bit early and so I carried on there and I was in charge of the meals and that. Because they weren’t cooked there. They were cooked down at the Bramston School [Spinks Lane] and brought to the Church School and I was in charge of the meal service then. But, after that, you see both the children went away to school, went to boarding school. You see my husband was a freemason and they both went to Masonic Schools. So they both had a very good education and when Hilary was old enough to go, I didn’t know whether to let her go or not really, because she was only eight (Q: Quite.) she was a bit young, but the thing was there was the place for her (Q: Right) because my husband had paid and belonged to a certain thing that covered that and so of course Keith went, Keith went when he was nine and then they wrote and said there was this place for Hilary and would I like to accept. I think, probably she would have won a scholarship, she was quite bright at school. But I felt well, he’d done this for their education then it wasn’t fair for one to go and not the other. Hilary wasn’t as happy as Keith. But Keith, he loved his school and he done very well, particularly done well in sport too, he got all his colours and everything, and he’s done well in sport ever since. He went for trial at Essex, cricket. But he decided he didn’t want to make it a career so that was that.
Q: So you did the right thing then. It must have been a bit of a struggle though?
Mrs H: Well it was really. Anyhow after they got away and sort of were at school I did more in the school of course for a time and then I went and worked for Rippon’s [61 Newland Street] in the office and done the invoices and a bit of accounts and that sort of thing. I mean I hadn’t been actually trained for that but I suppose I caught on and I was there for some time then.
[chat about tea and children, not noted]
Mrs H: I worked at Templars for a little while.(Q: Did you?) yes. After I moved to, I gave up the job for Rippon’s because they moved to Chelmsford and they wanted me to go with them and I didn’t want to go. And I felt I’d got to do something because Hilary was [???] and then she was working but she didn’t leave school till she was eighteen. Well she went on to college in London for two years. She was travelling back and forwards, she was living at home then. I was in Albert Road then (Q: Mmm) and I felt I wanted a little job, and I knew Miss Copsey very well because we lived in Highfields Road. And I went and saw her and she said oh I’d love to have you. I wanted just a dinner-time you know to look after children in the dinner hour and I went several times when they were short handed, and then when there was a vacancy I got in and I was up there for about, I think I was up there for nearly two years, or it might have been over two years, but I had, Doctor Foster made me leave. I was subject to a bit of bronchitis and that second winter I had practically continually, bronchitis and he said it was going out either in the playground or I was picking up germs from the children, and so I had to pack that in and then I worked round at that shop that you say is Adams[?] [Braintree Road?] now. I went round there because the girl that took over, Jenny Hammond, after Roses, Mr Rose died, she lived next door to me in Albert Road and she used to get me to go at odd times if she was pushed and I loved it, oh I loved (Q: Oh good) and so when I had to give up the school job she said ‘Oh, I could do with you, I’d love you to …’ Of course that was so near and handy. It was lovely. I had a lovely time there with Jenny and in fact I used to run it when they went on holiday. (Q: Really.) Well I got into the way of buying the stuff and you know and that was, you know. My life’s been quite full really.
Q: I’d better make sure, now I’ve discovered you worked at the Co-op, I must think whether I’ve asked you everything I should about that. What sort of people shopped at the Co-op then ?
Mrs H: Well I suppose, on the whole you could say it was the working class really.
Q: For instance, for the drapery and stuff, what competition was there ?
Mrs H: Well there was Spurge’s you see.[42 Newland Street]. That was about the only drapers. There was another little drapers, now what was that called. Well, it was partly where Cooper’s shop is now. Because I think I was telling you. There was this little shop, now was it called Miles, Miss Miles. It was a small shop but she had an upstairs with the millinery section at the back I remember. There was that and she sold quite a lot really there and of course there was Sammy Page, the second hand … Have you heard of him ? (Q: Yes) Well, you see, where Cooper’s shop is there [82 Newland Street] was this Miss Miles, Hunwick, Hunwick that was the name, then there was the Post office [84 Newland Street].
And then next to that was Sammy Page [86 Newland Street] as it stood back where the Gas showrooms are now. Only you went up steps that stood back a bit and he sold all second hand stuff and you could buy stuff there at so much a week and all that sort of thing. It wasn’t a pawn shop but I think he did an awfully good trade. He was a very genuine man. You could go and get all sorts of things. I remember going and buying my father, I wish I’d kept the chair because no doubt today it would be quite a valuable chair. It was a high seat. You know because my father as he got older he couldn’t get up and down from a low seat. And I got him a leather seated chair and it had got wooden arms and it was quite big because he was quite a big man as you can see. And he could get up and down with this chair, I remember buying the chair there. I remember my mother buying things there too, very nice things (Q: What sort of…?) Well some of them used to be antiques but oh, of course he had a lot of old second hand clothes and things like that but he was a very genuine man. I’ve got a letter that he wrote to me after I lost my husband and that, a marvellous letter really that I’ve always kept.
Then next to that was Beard’s [88 Newland Street] that was a sort of an ironmonger’s and china shop. They used to have very nice china in there. That’s where I said we used to go skating and the boy Beard, used to, I don’t know if I told you this did I? (Q: Don’t know) Oh, well that was another thing I used to do, skate, ice skate. Braxted Park, you know there’s a big lake there well of course that used to get frozen over and so did the lake at Boreham and I’d got, I don’t know where I’d got them from but I’d got this pair of ice skates and boots and that but, you see, none of us had got transport in those days. I hadn’t got a bicycle. I didn’t have a bicycle till I was seventeen and then that was my cousin gave it to me. It was hers. And we’d got no means of getting to these places but Arthur Beard had got a motor bike and I believe at some stage he had a sidecar but anyway he had a motor bike and there was one or two other of his friends who were boys, had these motor bikes and they used to take us on the back of these motor bikes and they used to do a sort of ferry service you know. We used to go up there skating in the winter when it was really a hard and it was safe to skate, yes we used to skate on Braxted Park, and on that one along Boreham Road there. We used to go skating. Poor Arthur died.
Of course there used to be Bradshaw’s shop [72 Newland Street] That was another older gents’ outfitters. That was next to Afford’s [70 Newland Street] shop which is Martin’s on the corner of Guithavon. You’ve heard about that I expect ? (Q: I think so, yes.) Afford’s, Afford’s shop and then there was Bradshaw’s the gents’ outfitters.
Q: So where would your father go for clothes, for instance ?
Mrs H: Oh I don’t know where he went for his clothes really. I think my mother used to, I know my mother always used to make him flannels. You know, they used to wear, instead of wearing the ordinary vest they used to wear flannel, well they’re called flannel vests. My mother used to make him those. But I suppose his other underwear and shirts and that I expect she used to buy them at the Co-op. That was about the only shop there was really.
Q: For drapery and stuff would she go to Spurge’s or the Co-op ?
Mrs H: No she used to go, well, mostly she went to the Co-op I think, but you see there was always that Heddle’s shop too that was jolly good for materials and sheeting, because they I mean used to make their own sheets mostly those days [48 Collingwood Road]. Buy sheeting by the yard, they used to buy unbleached sheeting, you know that was slightly natural colour but you see people always boiled everything, their clothes, didn’t they, in coppers in those days and after a few boils that would whiter than the other white. (Q: Yes). And there used to be twill sheeting I remember and the flannelette sheeting.
Q: What about shoes ?
Mrs H: Well, shoes I think most of mine came from the Co-op as a child I think, but there again Heddle’s used to sell shoes.
Q: And food and groceries?
Mrs H: Yes again I think my Mother mostly shopped at the Co-op. I don’t remember. I don’t remember her going … There used to be what we called the Maypole. And that was where Doreen’s dress shop [139 Newland Street] is just beyond the doctors there. That was a Mr and Mrs Parker used to keep that. There daughter is now Joan Search. Do you know Mr Search, he worked for the Council ? (Q: No I don’t think I know him.) Well she has just joined our Institute because she has just retired but that was there and of course next to there used to be a bakers, Ardley’s [137 Newland Street] the bakers and there used to be up that side there opposite the door you go into the doctor’s now there used to be, what do they call those doors, in two halves, (Q: Oh I know a sort of stable door.) and, when I lived in the High Street, we used to pop down there sometimes fairly early in the morning to get hot rolls for breakfast.
And of course we used to go to Freebornes sometimes for skimmed milk. [3 Newland Street].
Q: Really? What about meat ?
Mrs H: Well meat, Sorrell’s [143 Newland Street] I think my mother used to get some from Sorrell’s, but I think we used to go to Loveday’s and before that it was Goodchild’s. [58 Newland Street] I mean as a child it was Goodchild’s when I was little. My mother used to go there. I don’t remember years ago the Co-op having meat. (Q: No, I see.) No, we used to go to Goodchild’s, I remember.
Q: I was just wondering how people chose which shops, how they chose which of the various shops to go to.
Mrs H: Well, I think my mother, I’m sure my mother used to go to Loveday’s, well Goodchild’s then Billy Loveday took it over. Then there was Sorrell’s at the bottom end of the town you know.
Q: Did they have a dividend at the Co-op ?
Mrs H: Oh yes we used to have, we used to have metal cheques at first, metal discs and then they got to doing the paper ones. But I don’t know how often they used to count these things up and take them in and you got your dividend.
Q: Somebody else, about the Co-op, mentioned the ‘treat’ ?
Mrs H: Oh yes, they used to have lovely treats really. Far better than the Sunday School treats or things like that [laugh]. Oh yes, where Doctor, well now, you know where Dr Denholm’s house is at the end of …, well that’s where I think I suppose the Holt girls have it now, the horses. [Down Kings Chase on the right] Well that used to be the Co-op field and they used to have races and entertainment you know, Punch and Judy and that. And we used to run races and we always came away with a bag of sweets and things. And we always used to look forward to that because, years ago, people didn’t have the holidays and that they have now. I mean that used to be one of highlights of the summer as children, yes the Co-op treat. I always remember we used to have new shoes, white shoes and stockings or socks according to how old you were. In fact, if I did earn any money at fruit picking, used to save that up towards new white shoes and socks for the Co-op treat.
Q: You all looked quite smart. You went to Sunday School as well then, did you ?
Mrs H: Oh yes, I always went to church, to All Saints church. I went to Sunday School and then I was a Sunday School teacher and then you know we used to have catechism on Sunday afternoons. I used to sing solos in that church. Sang several solos in All Saints church. I was married there. Both my children were christened there. My husband and my father and mother all lay in that, are all buried in that churchyard. I’m deeply grieved about that, very grieved about and I can’t understand why they were allowed to sell it, or to try and sell it. Because there was money left and another thing that I’m disgruntled about was that all the fuss they make about Dorothy Sayers, because she didn’t do anything for Witham, really, I mean (Q: No.) I mean I know she was a famous authoress and wrote and that while she was in Witham, because erm Kath Richards’ sister, Joyce she acted as secretary to her for a while, I expect you knew that. (Q: I think I knew one of them did.) but I mean she was, I cannot think why they can make so much fuss about it, because there were people lived in those houses, before ever her time that did far more for Witham.
There was an old Captain Abrey that lived there [26 Newland Street] a dear old boy he was and he was very good and he was very good, he was on the Board of Management of the Maldon Road school (Q: Mmm.) and he knew me, he knew my mother and if ever he came down there he’d always come out in that playground amongst the children and I always had a sixpence. He always gave me a sixpence. I always remember that. I wasn’t very old then.
And there was Gardners lived in that road too, people name of Gardner. I think he was an estate, in the estate world from what I can remember. [???] But same as Captain Abrey, I mean he was a marvellous man in the town and I mean like the Pellys, and Luards and that. They were all very good in this town and I can’t think why they should make all that fuss about Dorothy Sayers. I mean half the people in Witham never knew her. It’s just because, I think, obviously she was a good authoress and that but I cannot think why so much fuss was made about her.
Q: I know what you mean. She doesn’t seem to have left much …
Mrs H: She didn’t. I mean she used to stalk about, I mean, to my mind, she never spoke to anybody much. Another thing I remember is the Grove. (Q: Mm.) That was a lovely old place. And there was a Mr Percy Laurence lived there years ago. And he was another one that was to do with the Maldon Road school. And when he died, he had a daughter Grace Laurence and I think I’m right in saying she married a Pelly. But when he died I had to go with one of the boys and take a wreath for him. (Q: Mm.) But they had lovely gardens then in the Grove and there was a Miss Maisey. I don’t know if you’ve heard about Miss Maisey. She was a dancing teacher and she used to arrange sort of pageants, and they lived, Miss Maisey and her sister and her mother they lived along the Rickstones Road where you come to a farm. There’s a sort of a bit in the road that comes out that you, continues and there was a turning down that way that led you into part of Rivenhall. I can’t think what the farm was called. I think people the name of Wells had it late years. Well the Maiseys lived there. That was where they lived on that farm. There were two sisters and two brothers I think, one was a doctor I think but their father went abroad, I don’t know what he did. But she was a marvellous dance mistress, she was a beautiful dancer. A bit eccentric really but she gave dance classes in Witham and she arranged several pageants. One was flowers and I remember I was a Michaelmas daisy (Q: laugh.) and we also formed the Union Jack (Q: Goodness.) In all different colours and she divided all the stripes of the Union Jack and they said from the air you know it just looked like a Union Jack and she arranged all that, Miss Maisey.
Q: A pretty busy life, you were always doing something.
Continued on tape 53